Image: Gina Telaroli, In Search of Gladys Glover (2023, work in progress)
Tonight, Anthology Film Archives interrupts its usual schedule for one of its most cherished and long-standing traditions: “The Secret Life of . . . Anthology Film Archives.” Throughout its various iterations, “The Secret Life” has invited the cinema’s projectionists, theater crew, office staff, and community members to take over the Maya Deren Theater with their own creative projects and works-in-progress. Since joining the theater crew in 2021, I've adored each chance to commune with the creative spirits of my friends and colleagues at Anthology's "secret" ritual. From expanded cinema interludes to analog experiments untold, the program has turned over the theater to the generations of workers who have passed through its intricately carved arches.
The history of “The Secret Life” stems back to the mid-’90s, when the Anthology intern and video artist Stom Sogo sought Jonas Mekas’s permission to begin a recurring open screening series. Each program would offer new space for staff to workshop their various projects, and to grow closer as friends and collaborators. Alongside Anthology’s monthly canon of “Essential Cinema,” the open nights proposed a new repertory tradition, one that situated the theater as a site of multi-directional programming and participation. In the summer of 1998, remembers Anthology’s director, John Mhiripiri, the open screenings returned under the guise of “The Secret Life” and entered the schedule more consistently.
In the midst of collaging a poster for tonight’s screening out of a vintage anatomy textbook, Anthology’s long-time theater manager Bradley Eros slips me a slyly folded note. (It’s an Anthology legend that “The Secret Life” earned its name from Eros’s brief residence in the wall of the Maya Deren Theater while another intern, August, slept behind the Courthouse Theater’s screen.) “The Secret Life,” intimates Eros’ runic font, “means: what goes on within the overflowing communities of cinema workers, most of whom are artists.” The screening is indeed a welcome chance for staff to center our vital presence to the theater’s daily life and to celebrate the wider artistic communities of which we are a part. Experiments cooked up in the lomo-tanks of Mono No Aware and Gowanus Community Darkroom are often on the bill (“and where better to test out your 35mm projects?” John Klacsmann, Anthology’s archivist, adds.) Each “Secret Life” could create a stunning mycorrhizal map of borrowed Bolexes, homemade analog alchemy, and digitally distorted found footage.
Following Anthology’s pandemic shutdown and the formation of its labor union, worker-led events like “The Secret Life” have helped us strengthen the nexus of relationships at the theater’s heart and to imagine interconnected futures in the realm of independent cinema. The screenings have always aspired, as Eros’s note puts it, to materialize an ideal sense of cinema via “Collaboration (working together), Curation (putting together), Community (living and being together.)”
And it’s not just Anthology’s staff who can share their secrets. Audience members are also invited, time-permitting, to add their own projects to the program. At the last “Secret Life,” held in March, Prismatic Ground programmer Inney Prakash felt encouraged by Anthology’s “warm and supportive” community of workers to share the “frivolous videos” he occasionally makes “but would never show to people.” (They were very funny videos and most definitely a crowd favorite.)
“I felt like it broke a veil,” says Alex Baker, an artist and theater manager, who passed around her recently published chapbook at the last screening. “It turned the mirror inwards to our workers and community in the present moment. ‘Secret Life’ highlights the now: a reminder that the bedrock of the theater is always a work in progress. Like the creative process, it’s constantly in motion.”
The latest iteration of “The Secret Life of . . . Anthology Film Archives” will be presented tonight, December 5, including work by Alex Baker, Jaye Bartell, Bradley Eros, Erin Nightzel, Benji Santos, Lily Sarosi, Lily Jue Sheng, Julia Sipowicz, Gina Telaroli, and Ava Witonsky.